By Kelly Overvold
Frank Illenberger—the German pianist and software engineer behind the latest ETD app, pianoscope—believes that nobody deserves to have the wrong tools for the job.
It was this ideology that inspired the vision behind pianoscope’s development. Frank wanted to build an electronic tuning device (ETD) that would be the best tool for tuning a piano—especially if you’re tuning aurally or working to improve your aural analytical skills. The result is an ETD that works with the piano technician and their particular set of aural analytical skills and tuning techniques (whether at a beginning or an advanced level)—and abilities that no electronic device can replicate or replace.
Frank was first motivated to create a tuning app during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020. Since he was unable to have a technician come to tune his personal piano in his 1880s brick home, he decided to find out what it would take for him to learn how to tune his own instrument.
This journey led him to realize that there was an immediate need for an ETD that would complement the toolkit of a piano technician without neglecting the necessity for developing high-level aural analytical skills. This motivated him to develop an app with many useful features and a customizable interface built to work with the technician to meet an individual piano’s specific tuning needs.
A physicist by training, Frank appreciates the importance of the tool-user’s ability to understand the “why” behind both the function and the information that the tool facilitates. This is reflected in all of the features that are available on pianoscope, but I’ll highlight a few of the main ones here:
Ease of Use
The clear presentation of the user manual, in particular, makes this app enormously accessible and useful to technicians in a diversity of tuning situations.
It is also economically priced with several flexible subscription options for the pro edition:
- a 14 day free trial
- $15.99 / month subscription
- $149.99 / yearly subscription
- $599.99 / one-time purchase with NO yearly fee!
Note: A standard edition is available as well for a one-time purchase of $99.99. You can read more about the differences between the pro and the standard versions on the Piano Scope website, but the pro features were developed with the professional piano technician in mind.
Clean and Clear Interface
Every feature of the interface is very clearly organized with simple prompts to walk the user through the variety of visual customization options and the steps for measuring and setting up a new tuning file.
Additionally, the menus, views, and settings options are all organized in just a few intuitively located places to prevent the user from getting lost or confused within the app.
The Tuning View consists of only the most essential information needed to tune. This includes:
- the Indicator Display—a red line that shows the deviation of the currently sounding tone from its target frequency in cents
- The Strobe
- The Target
- The Scale
- The Keyboard & Note Names
- The Header
- And any textually displayed information
These features are visually customizable in terms of responsiveness, speed, width or number, threshold, contrast or contour, visibility, and activation. For example, the user can choose to hide all the information from the display so there are no extraneous distractions from the strobe while tuning.
The idea behind this design is that the technician should construct the visual display most useful for their particular needs, tuning process, and individual technique to develop a confident fluency of use.
I would definitely recommend reading more about this in the User Manual under the “General Settings” section to explore further the impressive variety of options available for an intuitive and efficient user experience.
Automatic Key Selection
At present, pianoscope’s main advantage over other ETDs is its “Automatic Key Selection” feature which can automatically identify any note played without manual input. Frank felt this was a vital feature missing from other ETDs, and prioritized it during the development process to offer his users a faster tuning experience.
Sampling and recording every note on pianos enables calculated tuning curves specific to the inharmonicity of each string. Because of pianoscope’s speed and automatic detection, sampling all 88 notes (minus the highest treble octave) takes no more than three minutes.
This feature also means that the aural feedback loops on pianoscope are very tight, which allows the technician to pivot effortlessly between aural and ETD tuning. The technician can then tune using their own tuning sequence and aural checks while instantly getting helpful visual feedback from the app as they work.
A note on pitch raises: For pianos that are 50 cents sharp or flat of the desired concert pitch, this feature should be disabled for left-to-right pitch raising or lowering. The pianoscope User Manual presents a very clear definition and explanation of pitch raise effects and methods.
Since pianoscope also does not share the “every tuning is a pitch raise” ideology of other ETDs, their feature for automatically calculating overpull or underpull for a particular tuning can be turned either on or off. You can also set your own parameters manually. Again, there’s a lot more to read about that in the User Manual.
The “partials spectrum” is another incredibly innovative and useful feature. Consistent with his motivation for developing the app, Frank felt the inclusion of this feature was of particular importance in illustrating the tuning theory behind a technician’s process, further explaining the “why” behind the way he had built this software to work alongside the technicians’ skills, training, and knowledge.
With this view activated, the technician can see a gold bar which is representative of a partial tone above each note on the keyboard corresponding to the pitch of the partial for the note being played. The vertical height of the partial indicates its relative strength compared to the other partials for that note.
When put on the “Continuously” mode option, the partial display continuously shows the active strengths of the partials as they occur in real-time from the attack through the decay:
The “Maximum” mode shows the height of the partials’ indicators frozen at their respective maximum strength. In this mode, you can tap on each individual partial even after the tone has decayed. The app will then play the tone at which the technician should be listening to detect the partial in the fundamental note as it’s played on the piano. This will also help the beginning technician learn to identify the role the partial plays in the whole sound of the note:
The partials display feature can even be used as an aid for diagnosing voicing problems for individual notes based on which partials are detected, their strengths, and how they bloom and decay as the note is held.
Once the initial inharmonicity measurements have been taken, the results are displayed in graph form.
The black dots represent the measurements of each note while the black line is the curve of the ideal scaling for that tuning. The higher up a dot is drawn on the graph, the greater the inharmonicity is for the strings of that note.
These measurements can be taken with or without mutes and temperament strips in the piano as that does not affect the ultimate calculation, but if the unisons are particularly out of tune, then it might be necessary to collect measurements from just a single string per note.
The app also determines the current pitch at this step, as well, and saves this data in a separate graph that can be viewed by swiping down from the inharmonicity graph.
Once these inharmonicity measurements are recorded, they’re saved in that piano’s file. Any other changes such as tuning style, temperament, concert pitch, etc. can be adjusted without needing to re-sample or re-measure the piano.
Tuning Curve View
Yet another exciting feature is the Tuning Curve graph function which uses a piano’s inharmonicity measurements and the selected tuning style to calculate the individual tuning for that instrument (I recommend reading the full explanation for this feature in their User Manual as it is incredibly in-depth.) For each tone, the graph illustrates how much the calculated pitch deviates from what would be an equal temperament pitch while the concert pitch is fixed at zero. This shows the technician how much a tuning needs to be stretched in order to compensate for the inharmonicity of the current piano.
In this view, you can also visually analyze and compare the calculated results of the different tuning style options as they are applied to this piano and compare the effects that those styles have on both the beat rates of the different intervals as well as the partial strengths for the notes in each interval.
While you’re taking inharmonicity measurements, pianoscope is simultaneously determining the relative intensity of each of the first ten partials for each note. The values measured in this process appear as color gradients of the Deviation Curves in the Tuning Curve View. You can adjust the weight of each interval and save the adjustment to the calculated tuning style to apply your changes to the tuning.
This is a perfect example of the many ways pianoscope enables the technician to engage with their data, visualize the changes and customizations they’ll want to make for a particular tuning, and understand the way the ETD collects, calculates, and displays the information.
Finally, I want to highlight pianoscope Pro’s library of temperaments: a selection of 70 different options, from pure fifth Pythagorean temperaments to mean tone modified and quasi equal (including many different historical) temperaments. You can even create custom temperaments either by manually setting offsets from 0 cents or by duplicating an existing temperament and modifying the offsets for that particular temperament.
As I mentioned before, there are way too many useful and innovative features to cover in this article, but the user manual is so clearly worded and easy to understand that any questions you have will probably be answered perfectly over there.
What I think makes pianoscope so well-suited for the professional piano technician and aural tuner is the ideology behind its development: to create a tool that would complement the skills set, education, training, and knowledge of the professional piano technician and aural tuner in a way that enables them to make the most efficient use of their abilities via seamless communication between the tool and its user.
Has Frank put an end to the debate of ETD vs aural tuning by creating an ETD that is meant to be used as a tool to facilitate a high level of aural technique and acuity in technicians of all levels? Click here to start your 14-day free trial and find out for yourself! We’d love to know your thoughts!